Wish I learnt This as a White Belt

I used to think that exercise played the main star in maintaining health, wellness and endow the practitioner with an enviable physique worthy of a magazine front cover. Not that vanity hasn’t crossed your mind in private or publicly (especially with the presence of ubiquitous social media platforms) but until you’re at or close to that age threshold or have experienced some chronic health issues, you are likely to gravitate towards the latter because correcting a health issue isn’t sexy enough for social media (or is it?).

No doubt exercise plays an important for over all physical and mental health for many but lately I discovered ‘how much’. According to Cardiologist Dr. Kim Williams, the overall impact of correct nutritional absorption to physical exercise to our overall health and wellbeing has been empirically and clinically proven time and time again. Nutrition outweighs exercise by an approximate ratio of 4:1 or 5:1 with regards to heart health depending on what and how you eat. Regarding exercise, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is also an effective exercise protocol so that’s a big plus for you if you regularly exercise this way. If you aren’t familiar with HIIT, look up Tabata intervals.

As we all know, when you experience violence, the brain is triggered to release its chemical cocktail that rapidly induces the individual to experience the ‘fight or flight’ response. While that allows your mind and muscles to be ready for either action, the side effects of all these hormones cause inflammation to your body. It’s unnatural state of being to be in a constant state of arousal, wanting to flee from imminent danger or prepared to fight. The same conditions and effects are observed in high performing athletes so that will also include people who deliberately immerse themselves into such scenarios that triggers their survival mechanisms. Sparsely exposed the body has its own sets of solutions to deal with the inflammation however prolonged, sustained and repeated exposure will eventually take its toll on the mind and body.

While I have to simplify the processes, repeated exposure causes inflammation in your body which inevitably causes chronic or irreversible damage to your health. Injuries caused by the training aside, the invisible toll your body takes as a result will have its consequences emerge in the weakest link in your body.

Having said this, however, it’s not all doom and gloom, go play checkers. You can still enjoy your martial arts training. You have to strongly consider a major lifestyle change however. One proven way to cope with the unseen chemical forces occurring inside all of us happens in the way we eat.

If we are truly and sincerely interested in self preservation, shouldn’t that also include how you look after yourself both mind and body? Culturally it’s a routine to go for a drink and meal post-training. It feels good, you’re hungry and it’s a great social activity. I see this happening in the many gyms I’ve visited and love it. However the choice of what you want to eat, to satiate a craving vis-a-vis what nutrients your body needs post training that does not further add more inflammation are two different things. I know I’m guilty of heading for a fizzy drink, some thing meaty and fried along with more fried thingies and wrap it up with something sweet and fattening thinking that it will be alright as I work out and I’ll work it off again tomorrow.

Even before the lockdown in 2020, I had noticed a weight gain and it wasn’t getting any easier to lose the extra kilos. Back in the day, the unwanted kilos would have been gone within a couple of weeks. Well, this time not only did the weeks stretched into months, but my waistline kept expanding and I tried to justify it by blaming it on my advanced age, my slowing metabolism, my workout wasn’t sufficiently challenging, and a host of other excuses.

Towards the end of 2020, my dermatologist prescribed an immune suppressant to deal with my chronic skin condition, something that has slowly worsened over time. Things that used to heal in a few days lingered and spread. I had more bad days than good days to the point it dented my quality of life significantly. Anyway, I had to sign a consent form and a waiver to start these drugs. I wasn’t happy about it as it’s usually prescribed to patients who have undergone life-saving organ replacement and now I’m on the same medication that has multiple, serious health destroying side effects. After the second cycle, my dermatologist sensed my frustration and referred me to an Ayurvedic and TCM doctor. After a blood test, I was put on a strict two-week vegan diet. No dairy, no eggs, no fish, only certain vegetables and fruits. Only one type of cooking oil. Herbal supplements to boost my immune system. Basically a gluten and no/low histamine food menu.

I already have a history of vertigo. It’s not a fear of heights type of vertigo, that’s called ‘acrophobia’. Vertigo feels similar to bad motion or sea sickness. It can be mild to severe where I can’t stand up because I’m probably vomiting somewhere. The vertigo attack comes on due to an imbalance in the inner ear mechanism, and in my case, inflammation of my sinuses that adds pressure to the inner ear. The inflammation is triggered by my intolerance to wheat-based or high histamine foods which also causes an over production of mucus that inflame my sinus cavities and there I go again. When and why this happens, no one knows, it’s the hand I was dealt so it’s mine to deal with.

In addition, there is a common relationship between those who have suffered head or neck trauma for it to degenerate into vertigo or worsen into Meniere’s Disease. This is the motion sickness plus temporary deafness and tinnitus, an incessant ringing noise you experience even when there is no actual noise. Again, the attack can come on anytime and can last from twenty minutes to hours, or in my recent experience, about a week.

I won’t sugarcoat this and say it’s easy. Switching over to a vegetarian, gluten free, low histamine diet isn’t for everyone and if you are a strong, healthy adult you can decide what works best for you and your family. Consider the mountain of evidence of adapting to a vegetarian lifestyle though.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll no doubt be subject to another round of blood tests to track my progress. Last month I was on the borderline to becoming pre-diabetic. I wasn’t aware of this until then. I thought my blood glucose levels was find until I discovered it wasn’t. But diabetes acts in this way. One day you’re fine then you’re not. There is ample supportive evidence that shows the changing your food choices can reverse diabetes if discovered early enough. You have to allow your pancreas the opportunity to self-correct with the tools it needs.

So that was another surprise. And there’s more.

While it isn’t a ‘medical’ condition, the doctor believe I suffer from ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. Things that aren’t supposed to be in my bloodstream finds it way there by leaching through the intestinal wall that has been damaged by, you know it, inflammation and the strong antibiotics that doctors in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were so fond of prescribing and I took plenty back in the day. And no probiotics afterwards because no one told me about them.

So, the list is long and I hope that you indulge another old fella complaining about health issues. After all, I’m in lockdown and there’s nothing else to do. I hope this list stops here too. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

In the past few weeks I’ve had another visit to the doctors. I’ve since lost about three kilos. Pants feel looser again. Skin has improved and healing but I won’t lie and say it was smooth sailing. The initial week had me bed-ridden with vertigo due to Herxheimer’s reaction, that is, toxins that were stored in my fat tissue were probably released into my circulation that was released as my body started to metabolise the stored fat, yada yada yada. I’m not the doctor but you get the picture.

Into my third week and now I’m allowed to eat 200g of chicken or salmon a week. Three eggs a week. Not altogether so not strictly vegetarian though it may be likely I will voluntarily choose to stay vegetarian for a longer term as I really want to get off those strong medications my dermatologist prescribed. He did threaten me with a long-term prescription for them and I don’t fancy having kidney damage as a side effect.

So, avoid systemic inflammation. It’s bad for you. Really bad because you don’t notice it until it’s too late. That itch becomes a rash becomes a concern. That’s what you can see on the outside but how about the inside of your body where you can’t see?

Enjoy your fries and junk food while you’re young but remember you reap what you sow. Eat your fruits and vegetables, as your body works better with them than not, especially if you voluntarily subject yourself to the fight or flight hormones (and this includes stress of all types, work, relationship, PTSD, negative thoughts, etc.). Do your HIIT workouts regularly.

I don’t want to preach to the choir here. You already know about this and you can decide whether you want to avoid all the pain and expense of dealing with a slowly degenerating mind and body or prevent it from happening. Your life, your choice. I’m just sharing a recent experience and the information gap I had deliberately ignored when I had time on my side.

And while many people wish you well and for you to ‘look after your health’, it seems this advice points in the direction of eating more fruits and vegetables.

Best of health.


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